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Understanding College Athletic Commitments: A Guide for Student Athletes and Parents

Athlete signing NLI

College athletics is a significant commitment, requiring dedication, discipline, and time management skills. As a student-athlete, you will come across various types of commitments and decisions to make during your journey. There are different types of commitments that you can make, each with its own set of rules and requirements.

This guide to Understanding College Athletic Commitments aims to clarify the differences between a National Letter of Intent, a Verbal Commitment, and a Walk-On and how these commitments vary by college division.

Each has its advantages and considerations, so let's take a closer look at what each commitment entails.

National Letter of Intent (NLI). NCAA Division I and Division II Member Schools.

Note: NCAA Division III, NAIA, Preparatory Schools, and two-year colleges do not participate in the National Letter of Intent program.

The National Letter of Intent is a binding agreement between a student-athlete and a college program.

A prospective student-athlete agrees to attend the institution full-time for one academic year (two semesters or three quarters).

The institution agrees to provide athletics financial aid for one academic year (two semesters or three quarters).

The NLI signing period for baseball and softball players graduating in 2024 is November 8, 2023, to August 1, 2024.

An NLI is a serious commitment and should not be taken lightly. It's important to thoroughly research the college and program before signing an NLI, as it is legally binding. This means that if you change your mind or decide to transfer, there may be consequences.

The penalty for not fulfilling the NLI agreement: A student-athlete has to serve one year in residence (full-time, two semesters, or three quarters) at the next NLI member institution and lose one season of competition in all sports.

An important provision of the NLI program is a recruiting prohibition applied after a prospective student-athlete signs the NLI. This prohibition requires member institutions to cease recruiting prospective student-athletes once an NLI is signed with another institution.

Learn more about the National Letter of Intent at

Verbal Commitment

A verbal commitment is an informal agreement between a student-athlete and a college program. This commitment is not binding, meaning that either party can change their mind at any time. Essentially, you are telling the college that you plan to attend and play for their team, but you are not legally obligated to do so. Verbal commitments are often made by student-athletes who are not yet ready to sign an NLI.

Until the athlete signs an NLI, the recruitment process is still open.

A verbal commitment agreement can be made anytime and without any restrictions. A student-athlete can make a verbal commitment regardless of grade year.

Although a verbal commitment is non-binding, it should still be taken seriously. Communicating clearly with the college coach and keeping them updated on your decision-making process is essential. A verbal commitment also shows other coaches that you are off the market, so it's important to honor your word and not make multiple verbal commitments.

While a verbal commitment is viewed as a gentleman's agreement and relies on trust between both parties, an NLI is a legally enforceable contract that officially ends the recruiting process.

Walk On

Finally, there is the walk-on option. This is when a student-athlete decides to attend a college and try out for the team without the guarantee of an athletic scholarship. Walk-on players may or may not be recruited by the college, but they are welcome to try out for the team.

This option allows for more flexibility in choosing a college and program, as the student-athlete is not bound by an NLI or financial aid restrictions. However, walk-ons may have to pay for their tuition and expenses.

There are different types of walk-on players:

Preferred or Invited Walk-Ons: These are athletes who have been recruited to play on the team but aren't receiving athletic scholarship money. The coach wants them on the team and has assured them a spot, but the school doesn't have enough scholarship funds to offer them.

Non-Preferred or Non-Recruited Walk-Ons: These are athletes who decide to try out for a team after they've been accepted academically into the school. These students were not recruited by the coach or given assurance that they would have a spot on the team.

Walk-on players have to meet the same academic and athletic requirements as scholarship athletes and often have the opportunity to earn a scholarship in subsequent years.

Read more about the college Walk-On process at USA TODAY - HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS

Commitments can also differ by college division.

From the NJCAA website:

“Anytime you sign a Letter of Intent (LOI) with an NJCAA member college, you are committing to that school for the terms of the contract covering one academic year.  You are committing to that school just as the school is committing to you by offering you an LOI.  By signing the LOI, you are now an unrecruitable student-athlete.  As an unrecruitable student-athlete, you are not permitted to have any contact with any other NJCAA member college’s athletic department staff or representative.

As a student-athlete signed to an LOI, your name will be listed on the NJCAA website as being signed and committed to that particular member college.  Signing the NJCAA LOI commits you to that NJCAA member college, and the recruiting process is now final.  If you are unsure if the school offering you an LOI is the ‘right’ fit for you, do not sign the LOI.  Once you sign the offer, your options are immediately limited.  Where you choose to go to school is a huge decision.  Give it its due respect and attention!”

From the NAIA website:

“As an association, the NAIA does not have a letter of intent program in which students sign a binding agreement to participate in athletics at a particular institution. Student-athletes may sign letters of intent with an individual NAIA school. However, they aren’t obligated to attend that institution. That said, some NAIA conferences require their member schools to recognize letters of intent that are signed with other institutions within the conference. Please check with your prospective school to see if any conference programs apply.”



It is essential to thoroughly research potential colleges and programs before committing to an NLI. This legally binding agreement means that changing your mind or transferring may have consequences, such as losing athletic scholarship aid or being ineligible to compete for a year.

A verbal commitment is not legally binding but should still be taken seriously. Keep the college coach updated on your decision-making process and clearly communicate your intentions.

Honor your word, and do not make multiple verbal commitments. This shows respect for the coaches and programs you are considering and maintains integrity in the recruiting process.


Encourage your child to thoroughly research potential colleges and programs before making any commitments.

Remind them that a verbal commitment is not legally binding but should still be taken seriously and honored.

Support your child's decision-making process and provide guidance and advice to help them make an informed decision. Remember that this is ultimately their decision.






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